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Wrong patterns of Authority

Problematic authorityIt is possible to be a Christian leader and exercise a different authority than the pattern that God has established to be used in the church. On one hand, each member must be submissive to the leadership; on the other hand, the leader must learn how to properly exercise authority. There are various problems caused by extremism or by laxity in the exercise of authority. It is therefore necessary to seek a balance. Below is a list of inherent problems in the exercise of spiritual authority.

Spiritual dictatorship

A type of spiritual dictatorship arises when a Christian leader feels that no one must ever question him in exercising the authority that belongs only to God. Thus they impose a spiritual dictatorship; bringing confusion and conflict, and every suggestion or criticism is seen as rebelliousness. The leader must tolerate disagreements and perceive his limits, since his voice cannot be above the voice of God.

Many pastors and leaders fall into the error of exercising spiritual dictatorship because immature disciples transfer the responsibility to hear God with respect to their personal lives to their leaders. This may appear to be submission but it demonstrates a spiritual sickness the symptom of which is flight from responsibility for one’s own choices.

Signs of a dictatorial leader:

  • Fights for position
  • Struggles with greed and ostentation
  • Stimulates competition
  • Plagued by centralization and egocentrism
  • Falls into uncontrolled ambition and disrespect
  • Insults and threatens followers to get his way (Ephesians 6:9)
  • Curses followers and staff instead of leading with an attitude of gratefulness

Conflict between delegated authority and the Bible

This occurs when the leader gives a direction that directly contradicts the clear direction of the bible. In this case, there is an explicit lack of balance of authority since the authority of the Word is above any delegated authority (Acts 23:1-5).

Customs and traditions imposed upon the Bible

Customs and traditions only have value if they are subject to the Word of God (Matthew 15:1-3). If they are anti-biblical, it doesn’t matter how many centuries they have been in place, they must be eliminated or resisted.

The exercise of authority through manipulation and control

The leader must not annul the ability of the disciple to make decisions. The following is a list of subtle forms of manipulation:

  • Mysticism (Colossians 2:18)
  • Prejudice and judgment (Colossians 2:16, 17)
  • False prophecy (Jeremiah 5:30)
  • Debt of gratitude
  • Emotional and financial seduction
  • Acumen


The authoritarian leader exercises leadership through his own strength and oppressive temperament. This type of authority doesn’t last very long, since it is based on fear. Such leaders attract insecure and dependent followers and as a result the church becomes weak and repressed.

We must always seek balance, respecting intelligence, space and disagreement, without however tolerating sin and lack of commitment. God Himself teaches us to reason (Isaiah 1:18) so that we can know his motives and obey with a conscious understanding.

Exclusive authority

Exclusive leadership is exercised through intimidation because of a superior ability, gift or intelligence. Such leaders become exclusive and go to the point of prohibiting their followers from learning from other people and seeking out other sources of information. The truth is, despite all of the intellectual ability and talent that they may possess; these people are insecure and want to maintain their followers through ignorance. Exclusiveness produces fragility and not strength as some imagine.

Perfectionistic authority

The basis of this leadership is obsessive demands in insignificant details. In this situation, the leader afflicts his followers with constant feelings of inadequacy and inability and they feel drawn into a bond of dependency to their leader, which always portrays the image of someone who is super-efficient.

Fear and paternalism

Some leaders fear the exercise of authority because they don’t think that they are spiritually apt to exercise it because they were rejected in the past. Noah did not fall into this deception. Even after he had fallen, he exercised discipline over his son Ham, who was rebellious (Genesis 9:21-27).

Others don’t exercise authority because of paternalism. The paternalistic authority figure paralyzes and incapacitates his followers. The paternalistic leader is possessive and overprotective; he does not tolerate confrontation and considers others incapable in this way producing incompetent, fragile and dependent people. Paternalism is not God’s pattern, and not the proper exercise of authority. Paternity is of God; paternalism is of the flesh.


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limits of authoritySubmission is a matter of the attitude of the heart, but obedience is a matter of conduct. Obedience addresses behavior but submission deals with the state of the heart. Disobedience inappropriately touches the holiness of God while rebellion inappropriately touches the throne and the authority of God.

We must always submit ourselves to various levels of human authority, but we don’t always have to obey them. Only God is the object of unlimited obedience. Obedience to men is always limited. If the representative authority gives a clear command against God’s commands, we must not obey it. That is why Jesus said that He came to bring a sword, and that whoever loves his father or mother more than Him is not worthy of Him (Matthew 10:34-37). For we must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29). In order to do this, sometimes we must displease men.

God has established a hierarchy of authority that is organized in the following order:

•     The sovereign authority of God

•     The authority of the Bible

•     The authority of our conscience

•     Delegated authority

Any delegated authority must be submissive to the three higher levels of authority, besides being limited to its own area of responsibility. Whether it is in the family, in the church, in the government or at work, we must not obey any authority that commands us to sin against God, the Bible or our conscience. We must also observe the following points:

All delegated authority has its limits

An employer can only give orders within the sphere of work. Pastors, leaders or any other authority are limited to the sphere for which they were delegated. No human authority can decide with whom I should marry or interfere in my professional or domestic life.

Not all authority is permanent

Some authorities are temporary and we need only submit to them for a limited amount of time depending on the circumstances.

Traditions and customs imply some real authority

Within the parameters of the Word of God, we must submit ourselves to the customs and traditions of society or the church wherever we are.

Some types of authority are basically functional

•   Authority based on natural aptitude

•   Authority based on instruction

•   Authority based on experience

•   Authority based on the anointing of God